Congo (1995) — Bringing all the cheese to a gorilla’s world

“Quite frankly, the twentieth century sucks. Maybe the twenty-first will be better.”

Justin’s rating: What people will do for an ape. So sad.

Justin’s review: Michael Crichton is a freak who takes gobs of pseudo-science and hacks them out into easy-to-read novels, fully expecting them to be made into feature films. And we do! No questions asked!

Jurassic Park gave filmmakers a much-needed excuse to have dinos running rampant, and after that success, Hollywood became even more enamoured with Crichton than before. I’ll admit, while flawed with logic problems out of the wazoo, Jurassic Park was a pretty entertaining book and film. But after you have the Dinos-in-a-Park story done cinematically, what was there left of his? A bubble on the ocean floor with a loopy alien (Sphere). A GUY filing a sexual harassment suit on a GIRL (Disclosure). Vikings fighting cannibals (The 13th Warrior). And a little ditty involving Killer Apes Protecting Their Diamonds (Congo). I swear, none of his books make a bit of sense, but at least the effort for filmmakers to produce reasonable movies from them keeps me laughing.

The entire plot of Congo might well have come from a writing project in a 4th grade class. “Once upon a time, there was a man who loved an ape so much, he taught it to talk. And once it could talk, the primate kept whining about how it wanted to go back to the jungle. So the man in the yellow hat and his ape teamed up with a bunch of other weird people and went to Africa. One of the weird people was a crazy lady who is trying to find diamonds for her Super-Laser. On their way, some Killer Hippos attack. Then they find a lost city of diamonds, but it is protected by Killer Apes. Most of the people and apes die. Some don’t. And then there’s a volcano explosion. The End.”

It’s hard to relay the hackneyed plot of Congo with a straight face. But fortunately, the sheer mad, mad, madness of it all means more fun for the rest of us. Congo isn’t anywhere near honest science fiction, but it happily falls right into the spirit of a campy Indiana Jones romp. Most of it has to do with the diverse cast, and how much they’re all wacked in the head.

The main guy is a naive little waif channeling the spirit of Steve Guttenberg, and he’s got a serious crush on his monkey. I have seen movies, like Project X, where I as a viewer needed to accept that some people really, really like their monkeys. But this guy is so head over heels for his fellow primate that he fails to notice that Amy the gorilla is COMPLETELY FAKE.

I mean, no wonder Amy can talk — she’s just a gorilla suit with some scientist prankster hiding inside! You truly won’t be astonished with what Amy does during this film. Amy smokes a cigar. Amy drinks a martini (Amy is not a very good role model for the kiddos). Amy paints. Amy looks sad at man’s folly. Amy parachutes out of an airplane (seriously). Steve Guttenberg-Man is oblivious to the gorilla suit zippers, and he feels all sad and weepy and has to take Amy to Africa to put her back in the jungle. Now here’s what I don’t get: there comes a point where you can take a joke too far. Just because the guy is gullible is no reason to make him get all those Malaria shots, go through a war-torn area, and risk the horrors of Tim Curry’s overacting. Just pull off the head and say, “April Fools!” already.

Joining the monkey crew is Tim Curry as a Russian philanthropist-slash-shifty guy in search for his shiny rocks. Plus, he’s got a nutty accent! Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) is their jungle-savvy guide, with just the right pinaché to make watching him fun. There’s also this lady who may or may not be Meryl Streep (or possibly that lady from Jurassic Park), who is searching for her fiancé and has all the cool gadgets. At one point, she sets up a campsite guarded with (remember, this is the inner Congo, where they had to lug this stuff countless miles) laser fencing and automated sentry machine guns. Oh, and did I mention that her fiancé happens to be… BRUCE CAMPBELL? The Human Chin is only in this film for the first five minutes or so, but hey, those are the best five minutes of motion picture history.

If Congo has a serious point to make, it’s lost on me. There was discussion early on in the film about how apes can be taught to talk by other apes, and how “killer apes” are a total myth. That’s all well and good until we get to the end of the film, where they prove that most monkeys are anti-human to the murderous extreme, and even ape-lovin’ guy shoots them without flinching. If monkey deaths make you happy, then this is really the film for you. They get shot, lasered, blown up, and even melted by liquid hot magma. A lot of the action scenes are done in that blurry kind of slow motion that annoyed me as well in Battlefield Earth.

All of the animals are pretty darn fake, including the Killer Hippos (ya thought I was making that up, didn’t you?). I know hippos are hostile and all, but when they attack on the river it so reminded me of that Jungle Ride at Disney World, where the guide has to shoot the hippo every one of the five million times it lunges out of the water at the boat. That scene is kind of indicative to the entire film. You either think it’s pretty cheesy and have to wash your hands of the whole thing, or you think it’s pretty cheesy and you watch on because you feel moral superiority to the film industry in general. I laughed, but then, I generally do at the scenes of senseless accidents.

Kyle’s rating: I can’t remember the book, and you won’t remember the movie!

Kyle’s review: It seems like not that long ago that Michael Crichton appeared to be the king of pop culture. There were those Jurassic Park books (one was cool, the second one was wacky), some other stuff, and some other stuff that validates my statement. Trust me on this one. Anyway, he had a bunch of cool books out there and it seemed like anything developed out of his writing was golden! We cried: Crichton for president! Let’s hook his mind up to some sort of machine that sucks out his ideas and turns them into something that benefits all of mankind and gets us all the hot fudge we want. Whoa, they made a movie version of Congo! The reason we were born is finally here! Yeah!

Sadly, upon viewing, Congo was revealed as something that sucked something out of its audience: a little chunk of our souls and innocence. It wasn’t that it was dull or anything, it just took that great book it was based on and made up realize how paint-by-the-numbers the movie and book really were. With a premise of killer apes in the Congo and loads of money and satellites and big blue diamonds, you wouldn’t think anything could go wrong. But it did!

Congo is harmless fun, I suppose (my friend Steve was entranced by it and collected all the toys made; I only bought the Amy and killer apes figures), but it’s so cotton candy fluffy that I can’t in good conscience suggest you watch this. It’s not bad, it’s not good, just please play outside or something instead. Save a tree! You’ll be better off! And don’t go into the Congo! I’m not sure where it is, but there are volcanoes there! Run!

Didja Notice?

  • Shoot down missiles with flare guns!
  • We are so dumb, compared to monkeys
  • Communications companies have a hard time keeping in touch
  • Satellites are easy to down
  • Diamonds are just for throwing away
  • Delroy Lindo and Joe Pantoliano in uncredited cameos
  • Apes can cause heart attacks
  • Air conditioning in the jungle – how cool is that?
  • Why didn’t they check the second plane for additional communications supplies?
  • Doom, the videogame

One comment

  1. There’s a certain fondness I have for Congo. After Jurassic Park, I went on a Crichton craze and read most of this books. One of the first was Congo. I think the movie was kind of special for me because, if I recall; it was one of the first book to film movies I had ever done. So my intrigue for this movie was at an all-time high. Also as a young kid I found it to be fun and entertaining. Also scary because giant man killing gorillas is terrifying.

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